Monteux at Tanglewood, Vol. 4 – BEETHOVEN: Sym. No. 2; R. STRAUSS: A Hero’s Life – Pristine Audio

by | Sep 24, 2016 | Classical Reissue Reviews

A fourth entry into the Monteux legacy at Tanglewood delivers mirth and heroism, at once.

Monteux at Tanglewood, Vol. 4 (1962) – BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36; R. STRAUSS: Ein Heledenleben, Op. 40 – Boston Sym. Orch./ Pierre Monteux – Pristine Audio PASC 481, 72:30 [avail. in various formats from] ****:

Producer Andrew Rose extends his rewarding survey of the Pierre Monteux legacy at Tanglewood, here in 1962, a year in which the famed French maestro appeared six times before his old colleagues of the Boston Symphony. The music of this concert comes to us on 29 July 1962. The reading of the Beethoven Symphony No. 2 (1802) revels in its boundless mirth, despite the fact that at the time of its composition Beethoven felt the first real strains of his oncoming deafness.  The first movement has Monteux’s urging his horns to exploit the ceaseless energy of its sudden injections of buoyant vitality. The strings whirl at dizzy pace, the tympani’s marking the cadences with gusto. Berlioz had claimed that the D Major Symphony smiles in every bar. The peroration that Monteux achieves at the coda becomes breathtaking, symmetrical in its ecstasies to the point that the audience barely contains its applause.

The enchanting Larghetto, a song that Berlioz envied, flows with lyrical exaltation. The ensuing ornaments and arioso flourishes develop a marvelous canvas, as virile as it is delicate.  The color of the BSO’s lower strings, the violas and cellos, proves affecting at all points. The woodwind choirs impart the feeling that whatever martial elements invade the progress of the music, Beethoven still means to deliver an outdoor serenade.  Beethoven’s first truly so-marked Scherzo moves with a pompous ease, breezy and witty. The Trio enjoys a pomp and humor – especially in the bassoons – that Haydn would savor. The da capo enjoys a mad dash straight to the Finale’s rollicking Allegro molto that convinces us that Beethoven has penned a second scherzo – here in supple meter – as his concluding movement. Once more, the BSO horns and strings achieve a buoyant enthusiasm that verges on menace but retains a jovial acceptance of life’s trials as well as triumphs.

The Richard Strauss Ein Heldenleben (1898) celebrates “the Heroic Life,” and its autobiographical conceits depict Strauss and his former-pupil wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna. Given Monteux’s long association with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and its eminent conductor Willem Mengelberg – to whom the score is dedicated – Monteux’s sympathy with the music seems entirely natural.  Rather intricately co-ordinated into six flowing sections, the huge symphonic poem traces the composer’s quest for greatness and the various oppositions and supports he meets along the way. The solo violin (possibly Joseph Silverstein) intones the many moods – splendid and petty – of Pauline’s support in times of adversity, mostly in the form of carping critics and their bleats, which sound unsurprisingly like the sheep in Don Quixote. 

There are various miracles of orchestration in the course of the Strauss self-promoting legend, such as weaving an amazing tapestry from his own scores, including the failed 1893 opera Guntram, Macbeth, Death and Transfiguration, the song “Dreaming at Twilight,”  Don Quixote, and the jubilant Don Juan, for his “The Hero’s Works of Peace” movement. Prior to this self-celebration, Strauss had engaged in epic battle, with startling effects from the BSO battery and brass at Monteux’s ready disposal. At last, the Hero withdraws – presumably to Switzerland, if the English horn provides any clue – finding a consolation, a “consummation,” in no less than in archetypal, heroic strains in Beethoven’s Eroica. The level of musical execution has been exalted, lyrical, manic, and entirely resilient in all parts, and the BSO audience knows it.

—Gary Lemco


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